26 September 2023

JAPAN: Female executives to shake-up PS

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Two female executives with experience at American companies have been given the task of reforming Japan’s Public Service system.

Katsura Ito and Yuko Kawamoto aim to move the bureaucracy away from its traditional focus on seniority and lifelong employment toward a merit-based approach more common in the private sector and overseas.

They will serve together on the National Personnel Authority (NPA), the Agency that makes recommendations regarding pay, working conditions and hiring guidelines for the country’s Public Servants.

Ms Kawamoto heads the NPA. A former McKinsey consultant, she represents a departure from the bureaucrats and legal professionals who traditionally fill this role.

Ms Ito (pictured) the Chief Learning Officer at Microsoft Japan, offers experience with marketing and systems engineering. She has been approved by Japan’s Lower House to become a Commissioner for the NPA.

During her confirmation process, Ms Ito called on the Japanese bureaucracy to look beyond seniority when making personnel decisions.

“We could have a sort of fast pass for promotions based on merit,” Ms Ito said.

“The current system, which hires Public Servants for life, makes it difficult to take advantage of outside talent.”

She advocated more fixed-term contracts and other efforts to attract private-sector expertise, while urging all Government Agencies to digitise in order to boost productivity.

Many of Ms Ito’s arguments fell in line with reforms being advanced by Ms Kawamoto, and her confirmation could bolster the Agency chief’s drive to overhaul how Japan’s bureaucracy operates.

After becoming the NPA’s President, Ms Kawamoto pushed to let individual Government Agencies grant most fixed contracts of up to five years without seeking approval from the Authority.

The changes come as the number of applications for the Public Service examination has fallen by around 30 per cent over a decade. Meanwhile, 87 full-time, career-track Public Servants in their 20s quit for personal reasons in fiscal 2019 — four times more than the number six years prior.

Tokyo, 28 March 2022

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